Growing up in South Florida, a region with a robust multicultural population, Barika Andrews understood that being part of a diverse community is what makes life more interesting and exciting, and that teaching abroad would be her destiny. As a child, Barika looked forward to her mother’s invitation several times a year to help out in her pre-school classroom. At home, Barika transformed her bedroom to a classroom for her stuffed animals, using a little chalkboard and a teacher's edition she had obtained. Having taught Grades 2–5 over the past eight years—three of them overseas—she clearly still derives the same satisfaction:
What I love most about working in education is the ability to see the potential within my students and assist them with cultivating that potential. It is always my goal to help them prepare, not only for the classroom, but also for the world at large so that they can become productive members of society.
The impact of COVID-19 didn’t dampen Barika’s spirit. In Abu Dhabi during the lockdown, she felt “very fortunate” to be working at a school that had already provided Apple laptops to each student in her Grade 5 class. As a result, the transition to e-learning went quite smoothly. However, a typical day involved teaching several lessons, checking student work, attending meetings, communicating with parents, and answering student questions, which made for extremely long hours. The steep learning curve using a Mac—when she’d always used a PC—also challenged her.
Unexpected blessings came from Barika’s students, who wowed her with their creativity for their Primary Years Programme learning inquiry projects—creating videos, websites, Google slides, and, in one case, a song “to positively influence people’s moods.” She describes another surprising outcome:
One of my students who would become distracted in class at times due to the desire to socialize ended up submitting some of his best assignments while he was at home. I even sent one of his poems to the principal to read because I was so impressed with the improved quality of his work.
Before heading overseas three years ago, Barika taught at a U.S charter school for three years and in a U.S public school for two years. For her, the biggest differences exist not between domestic and international schools—or the children who attend them—but between public and non-public schools. She explains,
Children from both the U.S. and abroad are mainly curious. Most have a desire to learn and will work hard when they know that you care about them both personally and academically . . . The personal connection with students in the classroom is truly the key to ensuring that they are successful. . . The difference between domestic and international teaching has to do with cultures, thoughts and opinions related to education, and the resources available for teaching.
Barika believes in—and highly recommends—research for any important decision! By exploring the TeachAway website in 2017, she landed her first overseas teaching position at a public school in Abu Dhabi. She also relies on word of mouth; a fellow teacher recommended Search Associates (SEARCH). It turned out that Barika’s target school in Dubai hired solely SEARCH candidates. Once Barika came on board, she registered for the Dubai job fair and began exploring the website. She loves the function that allows her to select a region, so she is able to see information, such as salary and benefits, related to schools there. She says,
I thoroughly enjoyed working with Search Associates and my Senior Associate Bill Turner, and I would highly recommend the company to other teachers. . . I was quite impressed with the layout of SEARCH’s website and the plethora of information that was available regarding positions at the various schools.
Barika says her experience at Search Dubai was “amazing,” and she would “absolutely consider attending” another fair in the future. She loved that physical mailboxes were assigned to each candidate and school recruitment team. This allowed her to identify the schools interested in interviewing her and gave her a way to clearly communicate her interest to schools with which she wanted an interview. Not only did she relish meeting the Associates, different schools, and fellow teachers, but she also enjoyed multiple interviews and the four job offers she received by the fair’s end!
At Search Dubai, Barika accepted her position at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi (GWA-AD), where she is now beginning her third year. Her decision was made after thorough research. In addition to combing the SEARCH website, she explored other online resources offering school reviews by both teachers and the government, and she had discussions with previous employees. Barika explains why her interview with the recruiters convinced her that GWA-AD was the right choice:
When you know your value as a teacher, you also look for schools that can also perceive your value. During the interview, we were really determining if we were a good fit for each other. I also took an onsite visit of the school prior to officially joining during the 2018–2019 school year.
Barika recommends that teachers who move abroad join expat groups for teachers in their new country because those groups can be a valuable source of information. Additionally, she says that finding a community with similar interests “helps tremendously with the transition of moving abroad and the culture shock that can often be faced.”